Early voting for 2020 presidential preference primary in Athens-Clarke County begins on May 18. (Photo/Kate Skeean)

People often know little about local politics. However, though it does not receive as much attention as national politics, local politics can have tangible impacts on citizens’ lives. For example, Athens voters will consider the Special Option Local Sales Tax 2020 referendum this November. If passed, the local sales tax will remain at 8%, and funds will go toward projects such as the Facilities Space Modernization, Affordable Housing, Classic Center Arena, SPLOST Bond Debt Service and Renewable Energy projects. However, many voters might not have registered in time or are not yet well-informed enough to cast a ballot aligned with their interests.

Political groups need to ramp up efforts to register voters and teach them about upcoming elections to create an engaged electorate for off-year and obscure elections and referendums.

I understand how challenging it is to generate excitement during off years. It is already difficult to motivate people to go to register and go to the polls for high-profile races. Doing so without big-name candidates makes it even harder.

Still, without a community push, many voters will remain uninformed about local issues. Between school, work and responsibilities, it’s easy to forget about lower-level elections and referendums — something I understand first hand. Though I am relatively knowledgeable on local and state politics, I forgot about the deadline to change my voter registration from my home county to Athens-Clarke County, preventing me from voting for the SPLOST 2020 referendum. Something similar could happen to other University of Georgia students and Athens residents who would otherwise vote.

This is especially important following the state’s announcement that it could purge over 313,000 people from its voter rolls in December, which would reduce the number of registered voters by 4%. Election officials will send letters to warn those about to be purged via letters, but many voters might not see those letters. Considering how tight the governor’s race was last year, this purge could make a crucial difference in future elections. A community effort to reach affected citizens could be the difference in them keeping or losing their right to vote.

Also, even those registered to vote in ACC may not know when the next vote is or what is on the ballot, hurting turnout. During last year’s highly-contested midterm election, Clarke County had a turnout of 62%, an increase over the previous midterm election. This shows that, when informed and motivated, ACC voters will go to the polls. Similarly, efforts to teach and empower voters can increase turnout for lesser-known local elections.

Local races are vital to communities. Athens political groups should do more to ensure that residents are better informed about upcoming local elections and referendums. Doing so would empower Athens residents to improve their community.

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